Everyday Americans and celebrities alike gathered at the center of American democracy Monday for President Barack Obama's second inauguration, gathering in the January chill to witness his swearing-in ceremony from the 2-mile stretch from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial.
Inside the Capitol, a who's-who of the political, military, entertainment and sports industries were spotted arriving early: Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, singer John Legend, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and Hall of Fame baseball player Hank Aaron among them. "Gonna be a good day," said Aaron, who was in the Capitol with his wife.
The Obama family started its morning with a service at St. John's, the small church across Lafayette Square from the White House that has long been a place of worship for presidents. When they arrive on the west front of the Capitol and look out across the mall, they will see far fewer people than they did four years ago, when Obama was sworn in as the nation's first black president. There were 1.8 million people at that inauguration, and Washington authorities are predicting fewer this year.
But Obama and Congress racked up another $6 trillion in debt over four years, and they failed, despite two years of trying, to strike a grand bargain that would brighten the nation's fiscal picture.
In November, voters picked Obama to lead the country for another four years and today he'll have the chance to frame a second term that begins, as the first term ended, with a Republican-led House and all the challenges of a divided government.
"[H]e is going to talk about how our founding principles and values can still guide us in today's modern and changing world. " Obama adviser David Plouffe said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "We do look at this and the State of the Union as a package, so I think in the inaugural, he's going to lay out his vision for a second term ... He is going to say that our political system does not require us to resolve all of our differences or settle all of our disputes, but it is absolutely imperative that our leaders try and seek common ground when it can and should exist. That's going to be a very important part of the speech."
Part of Obama's legacy will rest on his ability to find that common ground with a Republican Party in Congress that has sought confrontation with him at every turn -- at times to the detriment of its own members. As revelers began to arrive at the National Mall, some were just happy to see the president re-elected. Others brought with them expectations for his second term: an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, new gun-control measures to prevent tragedies like the massacre in Newtown, Conn., last month, and an even greater tilt of taxation toward the nation's wealthiest families.
"I think he's finally learned how to work around an obstinate Congress, so I do think he's going to get immigration and gun control done," said Kim Ellis, 52, of Raleigh, N.C. "Last term was clean up and this term is moving those things through. He's been a great president he just had a Congress that did everything they could to ruin the country for political gain. I couldn't believe it. I have faith he's going to be able to get those things through. He's much more direct now as opposed to being a peacemaker."
Some of those same expectations are held by the Democratic officials who will be seated near Obama on the platform constructed for his swearing-in ceremony. Former presidents, governors, members of Congress and officials who have been selected for Obama's second-term Cabinet began arriving at 9 a.m. Technically, the president was sworn in on Sunday -- the Constitution mandates the Jan. 20 date -- by Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, who was sworn in Sunday by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, are slated to be seated at the west front of the Capitol around 11:20 a.m.
For some Obama supporters, this swearing-in ceremony is even sweeter than the first. While Obama made history four years ago by becoming the first black president, his second election was a powerful validation.
"What may have had a sense of an insurgent victory four years ago now has more of a national consensus flavor," Gregg Carr, chair of Afro-American Studies at Howard University said in an interview with POLITICO. "With the first inauguration there was almost a sense that ... we did it against improbable odds, but now it's the norm of sorts."
The confluence of the federal holiday marking Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and Obama's second inauguration is fitting, say leaders in the black community. Obama, who has increasingly embraced his own connection to King over the years, will place his hand on a Bible once owned by King when he takes the Oath of Office. That Bible will sit atop one owned by Abraham Lincoln, the president Obama most admires.
Biden's ceremonial swearing-in begins at 11:46 a.m., and Obama will raise his right hand about 10 minutes later. In between, James Taylor will sing. Pop idols Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce Knowles will also perform at the inauguration. The parade is scheduled to start about 2:35 p.m. and last no more than three hours.
This year's crowd is expected to be much smaller than the roughly 1.5 million people who packed the National Mall four years ago. The latest projections peg the number at between 500,000 and 700,000 people. But that didn't spoil the mood for the folks who came.
Jeri Harris, 63, came back for Obama's second inauguration. It still "feels like a big deal," she said. "The crowds are less large, things are marked a little better, and it's a lot less cold."
-- Kate Nocera, Ginger Gibson and John Bresnahan contributed to this story
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